Theatre of the Absurd

ARGO

This is a fake film about a real escape

This is a fake film about a real escape

Ben Affleck suitably impressed the Hollywood Foreign Press with the brilliant socio-political thriller Argo which he deservedly  won the 2013 Golden Globe for best director but it was a travesty that he was not nominated for an Oscar for the 85th Academy Awards in the best director category for this tightly woven docu-drama about the Iranian hostage crisis spanning from 1979 to 1980.

Argo starts off with an almost picture book history of Iran up to the overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979 and the rise to power of the Ayatollah Khomeini which turned Iran from a Kingdom into an Islamic Republic. Amidst this cultural and fundamental Islamic revolution is a diplomatic crisis which stems from the Iranian revolutionaries storming the American Embassy in Tehran in November 1979 in reaction to the Shah seeking political asylum in the USA. Whilst the majority of the US citizens remain hostage, six escape and seek refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s house in suburban Tehran at the height of the Iranian Revolution

Back at CIA headquarters in Langley Virginia, Brian Cranston as Jack O’Donnell pulls in Tony Mendez played with a subtle strength by Affleck as an extraction specialist who comes up with a hair-brained scheme to rescue the six hostages in Tehran using the cover of a Canadian crew shooting a fake science fiction film in Iran. Enter Hollywood, where Mendez soon flies to L.A. and in a surprisingly limited time enlists the help of prosthetics expert John Chambers played by John Goodman and disgruntled and cynical veteran film director Lester Siegel superbly played by Alan Arkin to set up and promote the non-existent film Argo, taken from a trashy Sci-Fi script with a faintly Middle Eastern setting, almost like the planet Tattoine in Star Wars.

star_wars

Where Affleck as director excels so powerfully is his skilful cinematic combination of the ludicrous wealth and theatricality of Hollywood, especially presented in the wonderful Comicon press launch scene at the Beverley Hills Hilton  intercut with the real brutality and turmoil of the Islamic revolution where Tehran and Iran as a country in 1979 were experiencing a major political and socioeconomic coup aided by a vengeful revolutionary guard.

Escape from Tehran

It’s really the second half of Argo which is terrific entertainment and is a tense escape tale whereby Affleck’s character Mendez not willing to show the real strain he is under flies first to Istanbul and then into Tehran and with the assistance of the Canadian Ambassador skilfully extricates the six American hostages out of Tehran through a terrifying airport passport control sequence which for any international traveler is sure to bring back vivid memories. Along with a classified CIA mission, a bizarre ploy about shooting a sci-fi film in and around Tehran, Argo is a thought-provoking portrait of two vastly different societies connected only through a shared mesmerizing interest in a fake narrative in which they don’t fully grasp the realities yet, but recognize the antagonism associated with conflicting cultural ideologies. Much like earthlings sent to a distant planet!

Affleck’s triumph as director is that he never vilifies the Iranians and also does not succumb to much American glossy patriotism but accurately presents a bizarre tale of courage, tenacity and duplicity of international proportions and of the extraordinary lengths governments will go to protecting their own citizens in foreign diplomatic missions. Argo is helped by an excellent script by Chris Terrio and a suitably nerve-wracking original score by Alexandre Desplat who makes sure the pace of the film is maintained somewhere between terror and absurdity.

Argo is an engaging declassified tale of one man’s courage to protect his fellow countrymen in a hostile environment whilst maintaining an almost definitive sense of calm and fortitude. Kyle Chandler, Tate Donovan and Philip Baker Hall also star rounding off this highly recommended slice of late 1970’s historical drama in a similar and less violent vein than the German film The Baader Meinhof Complex.

Baader_meinhof_komplex

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